Insert here the usual caveat about how there is more pressing stuff going on in the world. Still, all three departures were pretty fucking dramatic and sad. And Michael Jackson, as the lone musician in the group, is probably the one I should try to say something artistically insightful about.
Instead, I find myself wondering what really killed him.
I'm not talking about what the autopsy will reveal (thanks anyway, Dr. Gupta). I'm talking about the music business in particular, and the mass consumption of art in general. I'm talking about the media machine and its peculiar bloodlusts. And I'm talking about me and you: music fans who buy into and prop up stupid ideas like "the king of pop."
There's complicity enough to go around. Jackson himself made a number of really bad choices. But it's not enough to simply write him off as a crazy dude who is alone responsible for his fate. He was also a product of a system that we all (any of us who ever bought a record or watched MTV, anyway) participated in.
To you Jackson haters: can you, in your heart of hearts, guarantee that you would not eventually go off the deep end if one of your parental units brutally forced you into a professional entertainment career before you knew the first goddamn thing about the world? Can you guarantee your continued sanity if you turned out to be so famous that meaningful personal relationships became problematic, or even impossible? Are you that strong and imperturbable? Really?
To you Jackson fans: can you, in your heart of hearts, guarantee that you would love Jackson's music nearly as much if he had never sold millions, or billions, or however-the-fuck-many records? Did your love of his music (or him) depend on (or at least correlate with) his fame? No? Well, he evidently thought it did. Where did he get that idea?
I know it's important to focus on the music, but dig: the way the music was loved ultimately helped ensure that there wasn't more of it. So the fame problem became a musical problem.
There has been talk about how Jackson, in his bizarre later life, was the victim of enablers who infiltrated his inner circle. But we were all enablers. I mean, shit: even in death everyone wants a piece of this man. It was fascinating (and a little disturbing) to watch the explosion of furtive status updates across Facebook and Twitter as the news emerged yesterday: and the frenzy that obtained as people tried to confirm the initial TMZ report occasionally gave way to a sense of, well, petulant entitlement. Some people actually seemed pissed off that they were not immediately informed as soon as Jackson was gone. As if the news was really about them, or someone close to them.
So it's the culture, stupid. Andrew Sullivan has what seems to me to be the best obit so far, because he makes precisely this point:
There are two things to say about him. He was a musical genius; and he was an abused child. By abuse, I do not mean sexual abuse; I mean he was used brutally and callously for money, and clearly imprisoned by a tyrannical father. He had no real childhood and spent much of his later life struggling to get one. He was spiritually and psychologically raped at a very early age - and never recovered. Watching him change his race, his age, and almost his gender, you saw a tortured soul seeking what the rest of us take for granted: a normal life.
But he had no compass to find one; no real friends to support and advise him; and money and fame imprisoned him in the delusions of narcissism and self-indulgence. Of course, he bears responsibility for his bizarre life. But the damage done to him by his own family and then by all those motivated more by money and power than by faith and love was irreparable in the end. He died a while ago. He remained for so long a walking human shell. [...]
I grieve for him; but I also grieve for the culture that created and destroyed him. That culture is ours' and it is a lethal and brutal one: with fame and celebrity as its core values, with money as its sole motive, it chewed this child up and spat him out.
Yes, it chewed him up and spat him out. That's it exactly. Except that we're still chewing. Now I see people smiling, laughing, dancing outside the hospital. Now I see the smug broadcasters playing their part like predictable actors in some sick, tired play. Jackson was preparing for a "comeback tour," but in a way, this is the "greatest" comeback he could have devised, according to the rules of the game. In premature death, his fate is now sealed.
One of the hallmarks of the digital age has (supposedly) been the gradual erosion of the music industry star system. That was the world Jackson inhabited. Is it going to finally die with him? Cuz in the long run, it isn't doing anybody any good.